No one sleeps in on a Hurtigruten cruise to the Galapagos. By 7 a.m., my fellow passengers had been on deck, binoculars skilled on the sky. Positive, I like to see pelicans, albatross and hawks too, however my coronary heart is with iguanas. For those who’re a fellow herpetophile, there no higher place to indulge your lizard-loving methods than a visit to the Galapagos.

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Marine iguanas

The Galapagos has not less than 4 completely different sorts of iguanas, however let’s begin with my favourite, the marine iguana. They’re endemic to the Galapagos Islands and are the world’s solely sea-going lizards. Supposedly they had been the primary animal to return to those islands, floating on rafts of particles from the mainland. Estimates differ, however this most likely occurred about 5 million years in the past, give or take one million. It will need to have been disappointing to journey 600 miles off Ecuador’s shore solely to discover a bunch of barren black rocks.

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“The one supply of meals out there for these reptiles was situated below the water,” defined Hurtigruten information Daniel Moreano to our group as we stood on Fernandina Island, taking a look at tons of of marine iguanas basking on an enormous rock close to the shore. “They had been leaping into the water on the lookout for meals. And that’s how they realized that they will get as a meals the inexperienced and pink algae that we are able to discover below the water.”

The colony of marine iguanas look prehistoric as child dinosaurs, inert within the solar. Some have their little arms round one another, whether or not for heat or affection, I don’t know. At times, they eject a stream of salt out of their noses, a bizarre adaptation their our bodies have developed to rid themselves of extra salt they swallow whereas feeding on algae.

Different evolutionary particulars embrace a laterally flattened tail that acts as a rudder for swimming, and a squared off snout to allow them to scrape the algae off the rocks with their tooth. Evaluating the face of a land iguana to a marine iguana is like evaluating an everyday cat to a Persian. Marine iguanas are largely black, with their scales serving as photo voltaic panels to heat them up rapidly after shedding physique warmth from their dives.

You need to surprise what’s occurring behind the psycho smiles on their little faces. They are often devious critters. Moreano describes a tactic the second-rate males on Fernandina use to go alongside their genes. As a substitute of competing for alpha standing, they lurk within the space the place feminine iguanas feed on algae. “Once they determine the feminine strolling all the way down to the feeding space, the medium-sized males, they’re going to make use of a rock to masturbate themselves to prepare the sperm,” Moreano explains. “So meaning when the females passing close by it should take only a minute to fertilize the feminine and run away earlier than the large male arrives.”

One tremendous uncommon factor about marine iguanas: when climate circumstances make algae scarce, they will cut back their measurement by about 20%, together with their skeletons. Scientists are researching this capability, Moreano tells us, in hopes of making use of that data to osteoporosis and different human illnesses.

Land iguanas

Whereas I’d describe the marine iguanas as cute, land iguanas are absolute beauties. Particularly the large golden males.  The largest can develop as much as 5 ft lengthy and weigh 25 kilos.

Our first afternoon of the Hurtigruten cruise, we discover Cerro Dragon, or Dragon Hill, recognized for land iguana burrows. We discover just a few iguanas within the bushes simply off the trail. Moreano explains that probably the most profitable males are brilliant yellow.

Throughout mating season, “He’ll eat numerous yellow flowers as a approach to acquire numerous pigmentation to brighten its coloration extra to look very enticing for females.” However we additionally see a patchy-looking iguana, its pores and skin coming off in items prefer it has mange. Seems, it’s simply molting. Not like snakes and lizards that lose their outdated skins in a single day, “Iguanas can not afford to try this. The rationale why, as a result of if they begin molting out their complete pores and skin in a single single day, they’ll lose numerous warmth and they’ll die.”

As a substitute, they lose pores and skin in patches. “That’s a approach to save vitality,” Moreano explains. “Really, the cells that regenerate the pores and skin are situated on the base of its stomach. So at all times the brand new pores and skin is coming from the bottom of its stomach, and the opposite pores and skin is peeling off from its again. That’s the way it works.” However nothing is wasted. Finches, snakes and different iguanas eat the discarded pores and skin.

Fairly because the iguanas are, nature will be disturbing. As Moreano describes how land iguanas mate, it goes from horny to brutal, “As soon as the male discovered a feminine, the male begin shifting his head up and down, bobbing his head like this. And each time the male is doing that, he’s additionally performing some circles across the feminine physique. Each time the male does a circle, they’re smaller in measurement, smaller in measurement, with the technique to have a really good method to the females.”

To date, so good. Then it will get nasty. The male bites the feminine’s neck, then sticks the nearer of its two penises into the feminine’s cloaca. “The copulation lasts for about 5 minutes as much as 25 minutes. And it’s painful for females. Cause why, as a result of the male iguana penis is sort of a plastic bag stuffed with thorns. When he introduce that it’s painful. It’s much more painful when he retract that. So as soon as the male is finished with the copulation, you may see females operating away from the males’ territory.”

Ouch, ouch, ouch. Nature isn’t for the faint of coronary heart. On this journey I’ll additionally see large tortoises copulating, and my information that day will inform us that feminine tortoises may also get away as rapidly as a tortoise can put up coitus.

Santa Fe iguanas

This land iguana is just discovered on Santa Fe Island, a comparatively flat nine-square-mile island within the jap Galapagos. The Santa Fe iguana has smaller dorsal spines than different Galapagos land iguanas, is barely darker and has a tapered snout. Its muted colours are designed for camouflage. When Charles Darwin visited, he known as them “ugly animals,” and located marine iguanas even worse. The person clearly had no style in lizards.

The iguanas are at present secure from predators on Santa Fe Island, and no people stay there. However since their inhabitants is restricted to such a small island, drought, launched species or different unpredictable occasions might simply wipe out their estimated inhabitants of seven,000, so that they’re thought-about weak.

Pink iguanas

In 2009, scientists found a small colony of pink land iguanas dwelling on Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island within the western Galapagos. Pink iguanas are the Galapagos’ rarest iguana. A 2021 survey by scientists and park rangers estimated the whole variety of pink iguanas to be 211.

In accordance with the Galapagos Conservancy web site, the pink land iguana diverged from different land iguana species about 5.7 million years in the past, making it one of many Galapagos’ oldest recognized examples of evolutionary diversification. Scientists have not often seen juvenile pink iguanas, because of predation of hatchlings and eggs by invasive cats and rats.

Why are they pink? Blood. An absence of melanin makes the pores and skin translucent. “You possibly can see the circulation of blood in that iguana,” Moreano informed us. They regulate their temperature by shifting between the highlands, the place it’s cooler, and the hotter lowlands.

Dangerous information for vacationers: You’re not allowed to go to the homeland of this critically endangered iguana. Excellent news for pink iguanas: A global workforce of scientists and researchers are growing a conservation plan. They’re planning to assemble a everlasting hut close to Wolf Volcano as an operations base for future fieldwork. Hmm. Is it too late for this lizard-loving author to retrain as a biologist and have a legit purpose to remain in that hut?

Pictures by Teresa Bergen

By moon

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